Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review of Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (1938, Vintage)

Exposed by a newspaper, Pinkie’s boss was killed by a rival gang.  Now the journalist is wandering across Brighton pursued by the gang now controlled by the seventeen year old.  He latches onto day tripper, Ida Arnold, a matronly woman looking for a good time, but when she visits a bathroom the journalist disappears.  Pinkie has his revenge and sets about covering his tracks, leaving a false trail of newspaper competition cards in public places.  Although ruled as a natural death, Ida isn’t convinced and when the police prove uninterested, she starts to retrace the newspaper man’s steps.  In Snow’s cafe she discovers the sixteen year old, Rose.  The waitress soon becomes caught in the middle of the paranoid and volatile Pinkie and the formidable Ida.

Published in 1938, Brighton Rock traces the aftermath of a murder as its principal protagonist tries to cover his tracks as he becomes increasingly paranoid and skittish.  Pinkie has graduated from poverty to head of a razor gang working the fringes of the Brighton races.  Seeking revenge his gang murder a journalist, but leave a crucial clue, which Pinkie subsequently tries to collect, meeting the naive and impressionable, Rose.  Together start an unsettled relationship, pursued by the worldly-wise Ida Arnold who is suspicious of the journalists death.  Greene uses this scenario to explore the themes of right and wrong, and good and evil, framed within Pinkie and Rose’s Catholic upbringing, their poverty and alienation from society, and the gang rivalry operating in Brighton.  It is this framing, along with the characterisation, that is the real strength of the story adding a distinct literary sensibility to the storytelling.  Pinkie, Rose and Ida are three-dimensional characters with depth that evolve over the course of the tale.  The relationship between Pinkie and Rose is particularly nicely portrayed, revealing its complexities and imbalances.  The plot itself is fairly linear and well telegraphed, but nonetheless still compelling as it unfolds to its inevitable conclusion.  Overall, a tense and engaging slice of literary noir.

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